Friday, September 30, 2011

The education reform industry is doing to public education what General Motors did to public transportation

Financial incentives for building highways nationally culminated in the 1956 federally-funded interstate highway system, a huge project that made car companies like General Motors unimaginably wealthy. GM worked with city planners like New York's Robert Moses to market urban renewal, tearing down old pedestrian neighborhoods and slashing them up with interstate highway systems, to serve the migration of the mostly white middle class out of cities. Federal money stacked up against urban renewal perpetuating blight and creating ghost towns enabling criminal behavior further perpetuating the myths of already-privileged suburban sanctuary. Consequently, the primary transportation of cities, public transit withered in many cities as demand decreased, further adding to the car industry boom.

This week in Time magazine, a co-founder of Bellwether Education, a private non-profit that has benefits from education reform, laments that Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (among others including President Barack Obama) is trying to dismantle education reform by giving states more latitude in dealing with their underperforming schools. God knows the last thing I want is red-state Tennessee further undermining public education at the local level.

However, the Bellwether critic is sadly mistaken that Senator Alexander's moves are moves against education reform. Moving control of education to the state level is the logical extension of NCLB and Race to the Top, because education reform is bent on fracturing and dismantling public education itself. Allowing charter schools effectively skims high performing students from public schools and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that public education only attracts the dregs of society and holds kids back.

The reality is that education reform is the urban renewal of the 21st Century. Urban renewal attempted to by-pass old structures, which only manufactured more blight, which became the justification for tearing down and breaking up communities while wealth and poverty pooled and concentrated into a two-tiered America. It and racism and the automobile industry conjoined to literally drive large segments of the middle class out of once diverse cities and crippled or destroyed once robust mass transit. Renewal disciples like Moses used rising urban blight and poverty to justify even more renewal.

Likewise, while education reform may be providing hope for some families, it still perpetuates a social-Darwinistic system of haves and have-nots, and many non-profits and for-profit education companies are making money off stratification and misery. Charters still lag in performance, but only a fortunate few get into the ones that function well. In the meantime, public dollars and good students are siphoned out of public schools (where African American students continue to be disproportionately disregarded) and decay sets in, further justifying education reform's mission.

While education will continue to deteriorate because of the reform movement, private education companies and organizations will make money in the federally supported and foundation backed privatization climate. And even if the reform market turns from bull to bear because of declining federal intervention, the corporations will find a way to profit off the losses, too. Public education is the ultimate loser either way.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Exactly what is wrong with journalism and why journalists do not get social media (beyond its shallow advertising potential)

From the Twitter stream today following the Tennessean's event to explain how the news media uses Twitter, Facebook, etc:

Tennessean uses social media to protect their brand, engage their audience and as a customer service tool

Notice that nothing was said about using social media to uncover ignored and subverted news or to act as a social or political force countering or revealing information beyond the approved orthodoxy (hence, to be the Fourth Estate). Nothing about speaking truth to power, come what may, for people not at the table.

I've insisted for some time that journalism today is less about playing a critical role in society or reporting news beyond the spin, and more about public relations, branding, and promotion of friends and associates through advertising. (Note that their "free" Wednesday papers thrown on lawns are exclusively advertising now; no news at all). In essence, journalism is not a power to which we can turn as an alternative to the party line or the corporate talking points. Instead, local journalism, especially that exercised at the Tennessean, sells and brands exactly like the elite powerbrokers do.

The more journos use social media to defend their product rather than act for the sake of the common or a principled good, the more they slip from a seat of legitimate gatekeeper of information. Hence, we need social media and blogs in particular to get information past the disingenuous branding and the flackery of the Tennessean. Reporters already crowd Twitter for specific reasons and hawk their product to many, many audiences. If we fail to strive to keep social media an authentic alternative then it will be colonized via this generation of acquisitive journalists by government power and corporate money. It will be sapped of its peculiar and distinct potential.

For more on what's happening inside the Tennessean's social media event tonight, jump to their Twitter hashtag (#) stream (you may have to scroll through some obtuse participant tweets to get to the corporate sales jargon dispensed by the Tennessean's social media evangelists).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Occupy Wall Street emerging in communities across the nation

We may be seeing popular blowback against market malfeasance of recent past, against government's continued coddling of the financial industry; or we could be seeing the extension of protests that have have been occurring internationally since the "Arab Spring" revolutions swept across North Africa and the Mediterranean coast.

The Occupy Wall Street protests began on September 17 with fits and starts in the New York City neighborhood at Liberty Plaza. They marched around the streets of the Financial District among hapless police who according to at least one newspaper were unprepared for small scale and fluid action of the group. For their part, the US protesters emphasize representing the 99% of Americans who have no control over the financial assets here. They criticize corporate bailouts and ridicule the tea party movement for being a tool of conservatives and corporations.

The protests galvanized and expanded a few days ago (as many do) when police assaulted and arrested nonviolent protesters. Undaunted, they hold general assemblies, stock mobile libraries, coordinate food distribution and even provide medical aid in public parks. Jailed protesters have held teach-ins on IMF and reclaiming the public square. Occupy groups have sprung up in cities across the country, including a rag-tag group in Chicago hanging on against at the Federal Reserve.  Both Memphis and Nashville now have Occupy groups. We will see how long and how effectively these protests are coordinated, but leaders pledge to continue into October.

Here a couple of well-produced videos representing two groups of protesters at opposite ends of the country:



UPDATE: a media critic in New York observes via Twitter:

What impresses me about media coverage of #occupywallstreet is how inattentive it is to a sleeping factor: the social media ignition moment .... when 1,000 people swells to 10,000 and 100,000 in two days because of horizontal sharing.

Perhaps that is because the news media is generally too busy advertising their own items and pitching their own perspective (if not ignoring for some other banality) to pay attention to social media as an organizing tool.

UPDATE: So far, I'm less than impressed with Occupy Nashville. They seem more focused on staying connected with Occupy groups in other cities than on using social media to organize here. Social movements always require more boots-on-the-ground work than simply tweeting and facebooking messages. If they have a strategy outside of relinking news from outside sources I cannot make heads or tails of it. I can get the same information from a multitude of other feeds. Why simply replicate what every other Occupy social media site is doing? At this rate I don't expect Occupy Nashville to mobilize and I'll likely be unfollowing the media soon myself.

UPDATE: Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi talks with Keith Olbermann about the "organic" popular movement and the possible reform affects it could have on Wall Street. They also discuss the bias in the news media to cover conservative movements and to ignore progressive ones:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The frantic quest for any jobs without qualifiers likely creates jobs without security (if any jobs at all)

Tennessee Democrats continue to disappoint as they strive to do no more than compliment TNGOP:

In a phone interview, Sen. Andy Berke agreed [with Governor Bill Haslam [that lawmakers should focus on job creation].

"The number one issue in Tennessee right now is jobs," Berke said. "We're at 9.8 percent unemployment across the state, and we've got to push for answers. We'll continue to talk through the various issues we heard about today, so that we can renew a focus for the next legislative session."

Berke also mentioned the idea of an entrepreneur tax credit—a bill he introduced earlier this year—as an approach to encouraging economic development.

"People are hurting, and we've got to fund ways to move away from the distractions you see too often in the legislature and focus on our most important initiative, which is economic development," he said.

So, we're going to give "microbusiness" breaks so that they have more money and we can hope that they create jobs that will sustain employee's livelihoods. It does not seem to matter what quality of jobs they create as long as even a minimal degree of economic development occurs. At most the expressed expectation is that the bill will help generate at least one new employee at unstipulated compensation at each microbusiness that qualifies.

But the bill also seems to have a loophole: microbusinesses have a choice between creating a new job or two or generating a new investment or two. Investments include items like purchasing buildings, paying legal fees, and advertising and PR. In fact, no new jobs have to be created at all for microbusinesses to get the tax break. But it looks like the Democratic Senator is at best hoping that incentives gained through creating some TV spots or paying for lawyers will encourage owners to create jobs for Tennesseans.

All in all this bill disappointingly appears to be GOP-lite: give more breaks to industry framed with wishful thinking or unmerited faith that owners will hire more people to jobs that may or may not be sustainable. Sen. Berke's bill is good for the small business owner, but not necessarily good for the little guy (without respect to gender). I understand that Democrats in a red-state have to take what they can get, but let's stop pretending that this bill is about jobs. Jobs may or may not happen in trickle-down scenarios. When owners are given money back they do not necessarily generate jobs with it.

In the meantime, working class people need jobs that help them pay the cost of living. They also need jobs with salaries that help them pay for childcare so that they can go to work. They need security in this insecure market; the kind of security that Democrats strove to achieve after the Great Depression last century. Today's Democrats fail to address those security needs because they are focused exclusively on untrammeled economic development as the ultimate elixir, just as Republicans are.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"The governments don't rule the world. Goldman Sachs [Music City Center financier] rules the world."

A trader describes how the big financial institutions believe "the market is toast" and how Goldman Sachs does not care, but is prepared to make a lot more money off the coming crash:

If Goldman Sachs believes "the market is toast" and they don't care about the victims of the carnage, might they be hedging and betting against subsidized capital developments here in Nashville?

UPDATE: Ray Medeiros underscores the problem. Goldman Sachs is like a plague of locusts that comes in so bent on devouring what they can get that they destroy links in the food chain vital for everyone:

Companies like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, hold more influence on a company than the consumer or the small investor, like average people that have a 401(k). Wall Street firms are in the business of investments, and they need to make as much money as possible, even if it ultimately ends up destroying the manufacturing sector of the United States economy.

Even if it ultimately ends up destroying various local economies in Nashville, TN.

These are the companies that the Mayor's Office, and Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling in particular, are looking to for guidance on large-risk finance decisions like the new convention center. Supporters of Mayor Dean tell us to trust the process and that we don't have any choice but to work with companies like Goldman Sachs if we want Nashville to grow.

But every once in a while we get a glimpse like in the video above of how far out on a limb the Dean administration may have stuck us. For their part, Goldman Sachs wagers on when that limb could break, reserving the privilege to walk away with Metro dollars either way. This is all too precarious.

Salemtown petition to save the Fehr School building

Salemtown Neighbors has started a petition to preserve the Fehr School building. We received word at our business meeting tonight that CM Erica Gilmore is working with the Metro Historical Commission to craft legislation that she may introduce in October to preserve the building. The petition may not be needed, but it does not hurt to go ahead and collect signatures as a safety net expressing community support in case the legislation meets snafus in at the planning, legislative, or executive stages. I put a copy of the petition on Google Docs; jump.

The inept left

I've said it over and over again: the shallow, milquetoast liberalism restricted to progressivism on social issues (identity and gender issues, for instance) and hobbled by dependence on partisan Democrats will never be a broadly inclusive movement. It can never be more than a limited, status quo echo ignoring basic reform of power structures and larger visions of justice.

But don't take my word for it. A history professor provided a comparison of American populism, left and right, in last weekend's New York Times, and he effectively articulates the limits of liberals that block progressive goals:

the left must realize that when progressives achieved success in the past, whether at organizing unions or fighting for equal rights, they seldom bet their future on politicians. They fashioned their own institutions — unions, women’s groups, community and immigrant centers and a witty, anti-authoritarian press — in which they spoke up for themselves and for the interests of wage-earning Americans.

Today, such institutions are either absent or reeling. With unions embattled and on the decline, working people of all races lack a sturdy vehicle to articulate and fight for the vision of a more egalitarian society. Liberal universities, Web sites and non-governmental organizations cater mostly to a professional middle class and are more skillful at promoting social causes like legalizing same-sex marriage and protecting the environment than demanding millions of new jobs that pay a living wage.

A reconnection with ordinary Americans is vital not just to defeating conservatives in 2012 and in elections to come. Without it, the left will remain unable to state clearly and passionately what a better country would look like and what it will take to get there. To paraphrase the labor martyr Joe Hill, the left should stop mourning its recent past and start organizing to change the future.

I've been told before that a local journalist once described me as "to-the-left-of-left". If the reporter said that to my face I would reply that there is not much left here to be left of. There is no popular movement for challenging the system. I may be "to-the-left-of-left" but it is meaningless relative to what passes for progressivism: fractured, reactive and desperate; dependent on party wonks and politicians who could take or leave movements or the interests of regular people.

A nice thank-you note

From Buena Vista Enhanced Option elementary teacher, Ms. Norton:

Thank you so much for supporting Buena Vista! Your donation will go towards our 70th Anniversary celebration on October 28, 2011.

When banality gets confused with boldness in Metro governance

The Mayor has been droning the same 3 talking points--economic development, education, and public safety--now for a half-a-decade as his mantra for governance (or lack thereof). As if lulled to a semi-hypnotic state, the media just takes the talking points as realized, ignoring inconvenient perceptions like our neighborhoods seem actually less safe, like public schools are not getting any better and like revenues and jobs are not trickling down from big ticket items.

Nonetheless with the constant white noise dispensed from the Mayor's Office on the holy trinity, it is no wonder that senses are dulled and comprehension dumbed-down to the point that when Hizzoner deviates from idling the routine script he appears to be "bold". In fact, last week's Nashville Business Journal gushed on how "bold" Dean was in his usual pander to the upper crust:

Dean was speaking before dozens of business and community leaders at the CEO Cafe, put on by the Bank of Nashville and hosted at ESpaces in Belle Meade. The mayor acknowledged the dour national economic picture affecting Nashville and highlighted a tight municipal budget, but also pledged to continue pushing government to spur the city forward.

Dean touted the future Music City Center and existing Nashville vitality in entertainment and entrepreneurship as assets. Future economic development projects could include a range of initiatives, with advocates in various corners pushing mass transit, a new ballpark for the Nashville Sounds, an amphitheater, various revitalization projects and bigger movement in the corporate recruitment game.

Bold? Really? Dean was merely tossing some corporate red-meat, some of the same stuff the Mayor has been peddling from day one. During the summer he took a break from talking about wealth to Nashville's richest segments long enough to hold a handful of "neighborhood gatherings" during his re-election campaign. So, it might sound bold. However, now that the election is over he is right back to big capital projects in an era where Metro's basic services to neighborhoods are shrinking.

Bold? I would call that playing it safe and dancing with the people who paid his cover charge to get in.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mayor Dean's decision to move fire station from north to east concerns Salemtown resident

According to the Tennessean:

Janine Murphy left a Thursday night meeting still concerned about the residents of her neighborhood and the firefighters who serve them.

The Salemtown resident was one of only a handful of community members in attendance for a meeting, sponsored by District 19 Councilwoman Erica Gilmore, that offered some details about the relocation of Engine #2 fire hall, located at 500 Second Ave. N., to 419 Fatherland St. in East Nashville. It was the first community meeting on the building plan, which was set in motion by Mayor Karl Dean last November ....

If we have long response times from first responders in emergency situations in the North End, this could blow back on Karl Dean.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bells Bend farmers & Yazoo Brewing Co. giving a more progressive meaning to "development"

The Tennessean has the good news on the first locally brewed beer to be brewed with locally grown hops:

this is the first time [farmer Eric Wooldridge] has produced a substantial amount of hops for brewing .... The next growing season, Wooldridge said, he plans to plant even more hops, and Yazoo intends to continue making beer with them.

“They’ve found a varietal they can grow out there,” said Neil McCormick, Yazoo’s director of marketing. “And the thing with hops is they keep coming back stronger and stronger.”

Meanwhile, the farm and Yazoo will celebrate their first batch with the Bells Bend Hops Festival and Square Dance on Saturday. It’s an event Wooldridge also hopes to grow — maybe even incorporating home brewers — in the years to come.

For those who can’t make the party, McCormick said some of the 18 kegs of Bells Bend Preservation Ale also will be served at the brewery’s annual Family Picnic and eighth anniversary bash on Oct. 1 ....

with its hops grown just a 20-minute drive from downtown, Bells Bend Preservation Ale serves as a reminder that we’re a town both cosmopolitan and farm-country.

“It’s a good way to raise awareness,” Hall said, “of what they’re trying to do in Bells Bend.”

There is a fledgling agricultural/urban market here for growing, producing, and buying locally that does not need to be interrupted with cockeyed developers' urbanized designs for Scottsboro-Bells Bend. This is the kind of conservationist alternative consistent with the vision and the community plans of May Town Center opponents who were once hated on and charged with "holding back progress." The haters should acknowledge that local sustainability and small-scale niche growth is progress consistent with community-based principles.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ballparks have not been the indomitable economic engines elsewhere that politicians & developers make them out to be

Union Avenue outside AutoZone Park with FedExForum in background.
Photo credit: Google Maps.

After some time we are finally getting a balanced report in print on long unfolding planning for a new ballpark. On Sunday night the Nashville City Paper published a well-rounded analysis of the various views in play on this issue rather than simply repeating Mayor's Office talking points or letting pro-developer Friends of Sulphur Dell dominate the discussion.

What I want to focus on for the moment is the article's reference to Memphis's AutoZone Park, a reference often used by various ballpark development supporters to predict economic growth for our prospects. As reporter Joey Garrison points out, the communities around Sulphur Dell are thriving compared to other proposed Nashville sites. The Union Avenue stretch of Memphis where AutoZone Park was built was considered rough, rundown, ramshackle, downtrodden, and unsafe. These are hardly adjectives that could be used to describe either Sulphur Dell or the neighborhood closest to the proposed site and most affluent in the "urban core", Germantown.

Yet, the council's primary cheerleader for a Sulphur Dell project, Jerry Maynard, insists that our area provides the "biggest bang for the buck". CM Maynard has also raised hopes with wishful thinking, if not sheer speculation, that retail and residential developments would mushroom across the area with a new stadium.

Yet, the results in Memphis, where the stakes were even higher, were not as explosive as originally predicted:

Catalyst, game-changer, kick-starter, transformer — I've seen all these words tossed around, and used them myself, to describe big deals in Memphis over the last 30 years. Cost aside, and this one didn't come cheap, what makes a deal transformative? I would say longevity, positive impact beyond the footprint of the project itself, continuous upside, and love, as in "I love taking people to so-and-so."

Here's how I would rate the T-factor of high-profile projects I've seen come to be since 1980 ....

Middle Level:

AutoZone Park. Turned a sleazy, blighted part of downtown across from The Peabody into a showcase. Bigger than a ballpark, with offices, a parking garage, elementary school, and apartments. Attendance declined after the newness wore off, and the other side of Union Avenue hasn't come around.

I took a trek down Union Avenue via Google Maps and I saw a lot of properties that did not look like they were growing, that in some cases actually looked more demolished than built, that looked more like what I've seen around South Nashville near Greer Stadium. But the Union Avenue area is also supposed to have an ace up its sleeve: 3 blocks on its other side sits a major league sports arena: FedExForum, home of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. Even though sandwiched between minor league baseball and major league basketball, Union Avenue appears to languish after 7 years (AutoZone has been there for 10). There are also indications that the economic impact numbers that are used to promote FedExForum are artificially inflated by counting the multi-million dollar pro basketball players' payroll, even if those players do not spend their paychecks in or around the Union Avenue community.

Sulphur Dell has no major league venue, and we can assume that if AutoZone Park could not spur dramatic growth for the other side of Union with the help of a pro basketball arena, then we should not expect to see the same level of growth that Memphis has enjoyed (even though it materialized smaller than advertised). While on the subject of professional venues, I'll also point out that East Bank retail and residential growth has not run riot in the 12 years since Nashville's pro football stadium was built.

Birmingham, Alabama is exploring moving their minor league park downtown, too and the current scenario looks like it will be a boon to their Double A team while returns on the city's investment look more modest:

The city's costs include nearly $60 million to build the stadium and an accompanying Negro League museum and more than $600,000 to buy out the team's [current] lease ....

The revenue from the stadium itself won't begin to pay those costs, and it's not expected to, leaders said.

The Barons could gross $3.7 million a year from a contract that gives the team control of concessions and most of the ticket revenue and suite revenue ....

The city stands to earn about $315,000 annually from the revenue-sharing agreement with the team, according to Klein's estimates. The city also will receive $400,000 a year in rent.

Chuck Faush, [Mayor's] chief of staff, said risks have to be taken to reap long-term benefits.

"With the same guarantee that Birmingham and Jefferson County had to get together and build the [Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex], that's the same guarantee that we have for this stadium," Faush said.

The stadium development will be funded largely by a 3.5 percentage-point increase in the city's lodging tax, which is expected to generate about $3.4 million in 2012 ....

Howard Wial, a fellow for the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, said such facilities are a great source of civic pride but are not economic tools.

"I don't see much reason to subsidize a private company where there's no spillover benefit," he said. "If people want to have a team that they can go see and really want to see it in Birmingham ... maybe it's worth something to them. But it's not a very good economic development tool."

Wial, who directs Brookings' Metropolitan Economy Initiative and conducts research on urban and regional issues, cites Camden Yards in Baltimore as a warning. That city and state poured millions into the facility, which was touted as a way to revive the surrounding area when it opened in 1992. That resurgence hasn't occurred, and the city is still paying for its state-of-the-art stadium, Wial said.

Besides the rather small returns on the Birmingham concept, what North Nashvillians should take note of is that even Baltimore's iconic yard has failed to deliver the growth after nearly 20 years of operation. What other Nashvillians should notice is that Baltimore is still paying for unrealized Field-of-Dreams promises.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Enclave donation to Buena Vista Enhanced Option School

The check is in the mail along with a cover letter. Thank you, readers, for making these donations possible by clicking on ads.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The one true urban neighborhood and other empty signifiers used by developers

The ultimate challenge for a marketer is ... to persuade people to buy something they didn’t know they wanted ....

If you ask a developer, marketer or advertising executive about the desires of younger condo buyers, the conversation almost immediately drifts into a fog of verbal abstractions. You’ll hear that these buyers want to be “edgy” and they want “attitude.” But more than any other word, you’ll hear “lifestyle.” This word will be used in sentences as if it had a specific, well-understood meaning.

When the new offices of Nashville native restaurateur Chris Hyndman are completed in a few weeks, the window of his corner office will overlook the Gulch’s McGavock Street, an entire block built under Hyndman’s exacting creative force.

"The Gulch has taken on its own life. It’s almost a lifestyle as much as it is a location," said Hyndman .... "We take under-utilized real estate in great locations and let the restaurants and concepts drive the value, and we’ve created our own little universe over here ....

It’s becoming the true urban neighborhood that Nashville’s really been lacking he said, .... What’s different now is people are choosing to live here, and there’s more of a hipness to living here."

It's almost like developers (and, in the case of the Tennessean's Bobby Allyn, the business reporter covering them) either refuse to learn the lessons of the collapse of the housing market bubble or refuse to acknowledge that there are lessons in the first place. Instead, they just hunkered down and waited for new chances to trot out the lifestyle language once again to convince people that they need to live in the Gulch whether they know it or not.

I've got nothing against the Gulch, but trying persuade people that there are no "true" urban neighborhoods here besides it is sheer hyperbole designed to evoke emotions that prompt decisions to live there. Nashville has a number of urban neighborhoods and even some suburban areas that are "urbanizing", so to call the Gulch "the true" urban neighborhood is meaningless.

And Mr. Hyndman's appeal to the area's hipness is disingenuous. The hipness of various digs has been marketed for years. "The fog of verbal abstractions" marketing hip is nothing new. In fact, "hip" is hackneyed. Hip has been marketed in Salemtown. It has been marketed everywhere. In 2007, hip was said to have hit a wall. There is nothing new or unpredictable about this pitch; nothing new or unpredictable about developers who retread the raggedy old formulas.

Unlike the reporter at the Times, Bobby Allyn did not ever bother to write objectively (and thus critically) about the abstractions applied to the Gulch. The Tennessean has turned writing promotional pieces for influential people into an art form.

There are some far-sighted qualities about communities that make for long-term, generational progress. Attracting buyers and renters with empty symbolism to the "saturation point" is not one of them. Even the code "multi-family" applied to rental spaces is unreal and deceptive, a floating signifier. Much of what passes for multi-family is not built for families, and growing sections of it are designed for lifestyle hipsters on the make and on their way somewhere else to raise a family.

Friday, September 16, 2011

With the Metro Historical Commission on board, the movement to save Fehr School grows and gains momentum

Last June, CM Erica Gilmore expressed her support for Salemtown Neighbor's initiative to save the historic Fehr School building. Respecting Ms. Gilmore's focus on winning re-election, we did not distract her from her campaign once she expressed her support. However, as soon as she won re-election in August, Salemtown officers re-engaged CM Gilmore and she followed up with the Historical Commission about our next steps.

Tim Walker, Executive Director of the Historical Commission, met with neighborhood leaders and CM Gilmore at Fehr a few days before the building was declared one of the "2011 Nashville Nine" endangered buildings by a local preservationist non-profit. Mr. Walker told us that the MHC had been already been interested in preserving the school building for some time because of its age and its place in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. We toured the building looking at the old auditorium and stage long since converted and subdivided into office space. We looked over the foyer with its East Tennessee granite architecture and plaque designating the 1924 construction date and other details. We observed the classrooms and the old hardwood floors.

When we pow-wowed outside after the tour, all present expressed even more excitement about preserving the building than we had before. CM Gilmore committed to working on Metro legislation to get an overlay for the building. She is also contacting State Representative Brenda Gilmore about trying to get state recognition for Fehr, including a bronze plaque outside. Director Walker committed to working with the neighborhood once the legislation begins to move to passage. The neighborhood leaders agreed that we would do everything we can to get association support for the initiative. It will require at least a couple of hundred dollars on our part to fund mailings, newspaper ad, and signs to notify property owners around the school building when the legislation will be up for consideration.

But I was also surprised to learn that another building near the school also owned by Metro Action may be even older, by as much as 75 years, than the Fehr School building itself. Tim Walker said that the Historical Commission was interested in preserving the house across 4th Avenue North from the school building if it dated back to the American Civil War as he believed it might.
Photo credit: Google Maps
We walked over to take a closer look, and Mr. Walker pointed to the limestone foundation and the pattern of bricklaying--contrasting rows of bricks laid end-to-end and side-to-side--as indeed indicating mid-19th century craftsmanship. So, if those indications prove to be true, we will have two buildings that deserve preservation and fortunately both are owned by Metro government, which may make accountability for protecting them easier than if either were privately owned. The only question remaining is whether Salemtown should work to save both the Fehr School building and the house at one time or the school building first as planned.

Right now we need to focus on taking every step necessary, including raising the needed funds to save Fehr School. I consider this to be the most important project Salemtown Neighbors has ever pursued, because of its historical magnitude and the legacy it leaves for our North Nashville community and our city.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A textbook example of how the harsh light of media attention can alter a local pro sport's team irresponsible behavior

NewsChannel5 has been the only news media outlet raising questions about the Nashville Predators' stewardship of contracts with arena vendors that were not maximizing resources for Metro taxpayers. Tonight NewsChannel5 was the only news media outlet reporting that the hockey club has consequently changed its tune:

Nashville Predator team officials are backing off claims about how hard they tried to make sure taxpayers got the best deal at Bridgestone Arena.

They are also scaling back their plans to give a new concessions contract to a National Hockey League insider ....

the Predators president acknowledged the team's original plan probably was not legal. It would have given Delaware North a brand new, no-bid contract -- with a clause that could have extended it to 2043.

Now, after questions raised by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, the team has scaled that back to just a 12-year extension of the current contract -- in exchange for the company immediately spending more than a million dollars on improvements at the arena.

While other reporters present at an August press conference merely regurgitated what a Preds official said, Phil Williams questioned the official's claims that they had consulted "each and every" concessions company who could have competed with the Preds' hand-picked concessionaire. When Williams confronted the same official today with evidence that he did not, the official denied claiming that he had contacted every other company. At that point, Williams cued the video footage of him indeed claiming that he had.

To those of you who wonder why I am so hard on the news media at times, this is exactly why: if they would just put effort into holding powerful people accountable, they might not only keep us informed, but leverage change and catch others in untruths. Journos have to be more than glorified hockey fans.

In my best Barney Fife voice, "Sylvan Park: gateway to danger"

What the devil is going on in Sylvan Park?!

[12/15/2011: Part of City Paper story quote removed upon reader request]

At [4709 Nebraska Ave] ...detectives allegedly found a loaded 9 mm handgun, a rifle and a shotgun, as well as 3 grams of psychedelic mushrooms, 88 steroid pills, 30 grams of marijuana, a 1998 Jeep Wrangler, a 2003 Buell motorcycle, three computers and a surveillance system with six night-vision cameras.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Financing for Salemtown's latest large development comes through

A pleasant announcement from a seasoned Salemtown developer today on the Salemtown elist:

I am happy to announce construction financing for the first of 8 Brownstones has been successfully obtained and finalized this month.

Look for 1702B, facing 5th Ave North (Unit 2), to break ground in the coming weeks.

Jim Creason, the developer of The Brownstones at 5&G, has been involved the community in his plans from the beginning. Some of us live in homes he has already built here. Salemtown Neighbors has wholeheartedly endorsed Jim's concepts through twists and turns in the housing market since 2006. It truly makes a difference when developers are sensitive to community character and they proactively ask for feedback.

Remember the blight that once occupied this corner? Remember other developers who bit off more than they could chew? Fortunately, one of Salemtown's most important intersections appears finally to be moving ahead with a responsible developer at the helm. It is none too soon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Greater transparency = greater constituent satisfaction

Oh, that our courthouse class, public school district, and news media might one day take these findings to heart:

Surveys in several communities have found that the people who believe their local government does a good job sharing information are more likely than others to feel satisfied with civic life.

Those who believe city hall is forthcoming are more likely than others to feel good about: the overall quality of their community; the ability of the entire information environment of their community to give them the information that matters; the overall performance of their local government; and the performance of all manner of civic and journalistic institutions ranging from the fire department to the libraries to the local newspaper and TV stations. In addition, government transparency is associated with residents’ personal feelings of empowerment: Those who think their government shares information well are more likely to say that average citizens can have an impact on government.

Former council member blogs wistfully as her community is commodified

The former CM from southwest Davidson County's District 34, Lynn Williams, is troubled by careening growth pitching her neighborhood toward economic development at the expense of community development:

Homes have gone from being 2500 to 7000 square feet big on our half-acre lots in the last ten years, so it's not editorializing to say the character of the neighborhood has changed. Instead of feeling pride and welcome, I can't help but see visitors now as possible property investors instead of possible neighbors. Today I am sad and sorry to see another home go. We enjoyed a simple, satisfying way of life here for so many years. We live abundantly, amidst prosperity. When we bought this home we knew it was going to be a good investment anyway. So why do I feel invisible & marginalized today?

Feeling invisible and marginalized are themes often associated with the classic sociological idea of "anomie", or dislocation from communities and social order due to atomistic growth (Emile Durkheim). Even as used in sociology, the idea has wistful overtones about the loss of community ties under the march of modern progress. According to the Oxford English Dictionary a 1951 translation of anomie is literally "de-regulation," which in today's free-for-all, no-holds-barred housing market sounds about right.

We all wish for prosperity with our home purchases, but prosperity need not be confused with absolute maximization of money while abandoning any other values, particularly those constituting the character of our communities.

Did she really write that? Tennessean Senior Editor draws allegations of poaching for her paper

Here's part of the blog post Tennessean Editor Knight Stivender wrote for the BarCamp website (BarCamp being a clique of local techies, social media mavens, and digital geeks who consider their klatch an "un-conference," I guess because conferences are not hip):

This will be the fourth year The Tennessean has sponsored the day-long, free conference at Cadillac Ranch. In addition to employee training in all manner of digital development, content and marketing, here are four more reasons your company should do the same:

.... It’s a great place to steal people. I’ve attempted to steal my share of other companies’ employees during BarCamp sessions and post-camp follow-ups.

Charges of poaching are flying in the social media, and some on the un-conference side seems to be responding defensively to criticism.

The editor replied to the dust up via Twitter:

Cheers to [BarCamp 2011] and all who are building new connections in this economy.

Well, it is a desperate economy, but an economy driven by top-heavy corporations, like the paper's parent company Gannett, with bloated executive salaries and massive cuts to jobs filled by proverbial ground troops. So, the Tennessean is actually part of the problem rather than an economic solution, at least in terms of long-term employment prospects. And digital culture jobs seem to be the most insecure of all. (The Huffington Post, valued at hundreds of millions, drew fire this year for exploiting writers by not paying them; now they have launched a project to use minors as unpaid contributors).

But what makes the idea of "connections" objectionable in principle is that sometimes connections bias journalistic objectivity in reporting the news. I'm already uncomfortable with the ways Tennessean tentacles extend out into organizations and into the community in unhip ways, but do charges of the corporate giant sponsoring events to poach lower-to-mid level employees off other local companies have traction?

Jerry Maynard said he's no rubber stamp, but he can't distinguish how he's not a rubber stamp

I want to go back to June now that the council election is over to part of a mid-summer radio interview where CM at-Large Jerry Maynard did not exactly keep cooly cool with a couple of critics:

Maynard: I wanna be around for the next 4 years to make sure we fully fund education .... if we get the wrong people on Metro Council, we will not support fully funding our schools, and that is the number one priority that we should have as a city: ... to support our school board, to work with them on reform, to work with the Mayor .... I've got my own ideas. One thing I would like to do is to bring college students as mentors and tutors in or middle schools ....

Caller #1: As far as the past four years, Metro government hasn't really done anything about education except put lip service to it. And I really feel like a lot of the council and you yourself are rubber-stamping.

Maynard: Rubber-stamping for the school system?

Caller #1: For Karl Dean ....

Maynard: That's cute ....

Caller #1: ....We've got no repercussions, no consequences for ill actions and we have certain ones who don't want to speak on it in a real manner. The writing is on the wall. There is no accountability, and King Dean and the rubber stamps is what rules

Maynard: That's a cute little statement, but let me tell you something .... if you think that all we were doing was the rubber stamp, then I would say look at my record .... [giving developers financial incentives to build workforce housing in the "urban city"] .... keeping guns out of our parks. I've done some things regarding being elected and it hasn't just been rubber-stamping anybody.

Host: Alright we got another caller ....

Caller #2: ....You sound good, sir, but there's no substance. All I hear is words but we see no results. You talk about you interested in public education. Where was your voice when all these Metro employees lost their jobs? These jobs were outsourced.

Maynard: That's the school board, sir .... Since you want to say all I want to do is talk, so let's make sure the talk is straight .... Metro Council cannot tell the school board what to do with the money once we give them the money .... Let me let you get to know since this is the "truth zone" .... Dr. Register said, "No" [to Maynard's request to save the jobs if council could find the money] .... He tied the hands of the Metro Council [by signing contract without giving them a chance to find money] .... Now you can talk that I did not have a loud enough voice. Go back and look at the tape .... So, this is not a fiscal concern it is a policy decision .... Now, because I'm not on the school board, I can't tell Dr. Register what to do. The Metro Council can only pass the budget.

Caller #2: You're a Metro Councilman at-Large. Call a press conference. Do something other than just talk....

Maynard: So, a press conference would do what?! What would a press conference do? [Change of topic: exchange about David Torrence and whether the Mayor's response on Torrence was lacking]. Let me say this: My name is Jerry Maynard. I'm running for council at-Large. I'm running for re-election based on my record. You can call it "rubber-stamp" if you want to. Listen, this council and this black caucus that I've served on has been more effective, and I'm sorry that your head ... I don't know where you've been. You been living under a rock or something.

First of all let's agree that if CM Maynard had not lost his composure during the phone call he probably could have avoided the disingenuous reply that he is somehow running independently on the merits of nothing but his own record. Fact check: not only did Mayor Dean endorse and campaign for CM Maynard, but he raised funds for the Maynard campaign. The at-Large CM sounded too full of bravado for someone so utterly dependent on coattails.

And why shouldn't the Mayor go all in to help him? If you listen to the interview before and after this particular exchange, you will hear Jerry Maynard wrap himself up in Karl Dean's coattails by pimping the Mayor's pet projects: construction of the Music City Center, the unpopular plan to put a health care center in a mall, the scheme to redevelop the Fairgrounds, a ballpark at Sulphur Dell. So, the fact is that Jerry Maynard has rubber-stamped every single significant project this Mayor has proposed and enthusiastically campaigned on them. He never broke with or questioned the Mayor's Office when it could have mattered. To the contrary, I'm not sure he stood up to the Mayor as an opponent on anything at all. The projects he takes credit for independent of the Mayor are financial incentive offers and volunteer projects that the Mayor has never opposed. That is likely why he never denied the charge of rubber-stamping even though he tellingly protested too much about it.

Finally, it seems obvious that he wants to have it both ways on education. Jerry Maynard wants you to know that he is pumped about making sure that "education reform" (another Dean priority) continues from his position on the Metro Council, but his brightest idea is to organize volunteers to mentor and tutor. As noble a cause as that may be, he does not have to be a CM to do pursue that mission. While he would not have campaigned with the slogan, "I really have no influence over Metro public education," he had no qualms about trotting it out to use on his critics. CMs should not take strong stances on government issues that they really have no power over in the first place. Even influence over the funding mechanism for Metro Schools is mostly limited to an up-or-down vote on a budget proposal. So, for all of Jerry Maynard's talk of being there for schools, when push comes to shove he has to concede that CMs cannot do much more than talk about supporting education. So, how are the callers wrong?

This interview made clear that Jerry Maynard cannot take criticism of his ties to the Mayor's Office and turn off the juice long enough to focus on how he distinguishes himself from Mayor Dean. After a third critical call from Antioch came in later he accused his critics of being "Republican tea party folks" who are being prompted to call in. As if either Democrats or independent voters could not possibly be dissatisfied with CM Maynard's coziness to Karl Dean. Think again, Mr. Maynard.

HT: Genma Holmes

Friday, September 09, 2011

NewsChannel5 covered Fehr School building story

All good except that part about the school house being located in Germantown instead of Salemtown:

It is great to hear that Metro Action is behind preserving the building. I was concerned that proposed changes for Head Start might have included substantial changes to the exterior.

Historic Nashville, Inc announces the Nashville Nine winners in Salemtown

With Salemtown's historic Fehr School as their backdrop, the preservation non-profit Historic Nashville, Inc announced its list of endangered buildings in Nashville this morning.

Historic Nashville, Inc. with the announcement

Melissa Wyllie reads the list of endangered buildings, which includes Fehr

Besides Fehr School (1924), other north-by-northwest Nashville buildings to make the nine included:

  • Hughes House (c. 1870), 1724 Jefferson St
  • TSU Hale Stadium and Field House (1953), 3500 John A. Merritt Blvd

For the entire list, keep checking Historic Nashville, Inc's website today.

At this morning's press conference, Fehr School's pivotal role in the Nashville Plan to desegregate public schools in September 1957 was mentioned several times. I shared that story here on Enclave in 2009:

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The 54th anniversary of the dynamite bombing of Hattie Cotton Elementary

In just a couple of hours Nashville will observe, even if not consciously so, the infamous 54th anniversary of the dynamite bombing of Hattie Cotton Elementary School in East Nashville. Unindicted, but not unsuspected segregationists, who were never charged or brought to justice, bombed the public school on September 9, 1957 for the obviously heinous crime of enrolling one little black girl under a Supreme Court order to desegregate public education.

A local Klansman surrendered to the FBI a few days later and he told Nashville police that he and New Jersey segregationist John Kasper had hidden dynamite in an abandoned house the night before the Hattie Cotton attack and that the explosives had gone missing. There was not enough evidence to hold any suspects, and the bombing had an effect opposite of what the terrorists intended:

[Will] Campbell: ... the dynamiting of the Hattie Cotton [Elementary] School that night [in September 1957] would go back to a kind of climate of hate.

[Benjamin] Houston: A lot of people have said that, in their opinion, the violence at the Hattie Cotton School and then later the bombing of [Z. Alexander] Looby's home drew the battle lines and solidified Nashville's resolution to comply so as to avoid violence. Would you agree with that?

Campbell: I think that was certainly part of it. I don't know that it was the act that solidified it, but more people were changing. . . . Mr. Looby, my God, he was a Republican. He wasn't a dangerous radical. He wasn't American, you know. He was from one of the [Caribbean] Islands .... But Mr. Looby was a widely respected man, and except for the color of his skin, ... he would have been president of the Rotary Club or the City Club or whatever. But just because of that, he was in the background, but he was respected, and people, even a lot of the racists, would say, now, "dynamiting a man's home, you know, that's his castle." That did help some. And the dynamiting of Hattie Cotton School did as well.

But when you start dynamiting schools, well, you are hitting the white folks' pocketbooks. Schools were built with tax funds. And we're not going to let some dumb son of a bitch like John Kasper [itinerant racial demagogue who encouraged violent acts to resist integration in Nashville] come down from the north. In fact, Kasper probably did more to desegregate Nashville than any one person, just by being such a jerk.

To its credit, Nashville did not flinch, but carried on with desegregation. Within a week school attendance returned to normal levels. To its disadvantage, Nashville's situation was no longer sensationalistic enough for the news media, which turned its attention to the now iconic disputations in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Despite its lower visibility, the Nashville chapter of the plan to desegregate public schools remains vital to the civil rights saga.

Historic Nashville, Inc puts Salemtown's Fehr School among 2011 Nashville Nine, will share rest of the list Friday at Fehr!

Fantastic breaking news:


Announcement made at the historic Fehr School, one of the endangered properties on the list

Nashville, Tenn. - September 7, 2011 - Historic Nashville, Inc, will announce the properties on its 2011 Nashville Nine, a list of the city's most endangered historic places, at a press conference this Friday at the Fehr School.

The 87 year-old building stood at the center of Nashville's desegregation movement. Fifty-four years ago this month Fehr was the first desegregated school in Nashville. Until recently, the building was the headquarters of the Metro Action Commission. It is threatened with potential redevelopment and alterations.

When: Friday, Sept. 9, at 10 a.m.

Where: The Fehr School, 1624 5th Avenue North

Media interested in attending the event should RSVP with Melissa Wyllie at Information on previous years' Nashville Nine is at


About Historic Nashville, Inc.

Established in 1968 and renamed in 1975, Historic Nashville, Inc. (HNI) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 membership organization with the mission to "Promote and preserve the historic places that make Nashville unique." Over the years, HNI has successfully advocated for the preservation of such historic places the Ryman Auditorium, Union Station, Hermitage Hotel, 2nd Avenue & Lower Broadway, and Shelby Street Bridge, as well as neighborhood historic districts throughout the city. In 1982, HNI established the state's first Preservation Easement program and currently owns easements on 16 historic landmarks with a market value of over $30 million. HNI hosts an annual membership meeting, publishes a newsletter, maintains a website, hosts educational programs such as tours and the annual "Nashville Nine" list of endangered properties. For additional information, please visit and our Facebook page.

Jump to the full press release.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A one-two punch to public education

Metro Nashville Public Schools has been flying to "education reform" money and influence at the federal and state levels like a duck on a June bug. Starting with custodians and extending to charters they have been privatizing to flip public obligations to millions in corporate dollars. They have enlisted organizations that have impeded and eroded public education in other states. It has been consistent with David Sirota's framing of education policy in terms of Shock Doctrine:

as the overall spending pie for public schools is shrinking, the piece of the pie for high-tech companies -- who make big campaign contributions to education policymakers -- is getting much bigger, while the piece of the pie for traditional education (teachers, school infrastructure, text books, etc.) is getting smaller.

... the spending shift isn't producing better achievement results on the very standardized tests the high-tech industry celebrates and makes money off of ....

Tech companies give the politicians who set education policy lots of campaign contributions, and in exchange, those politicians have returned the favor by citing tough economic times over the last decade as a rationale to wage an aggressive attack on traditional public education. That attack has included everything from demonizing teachers; to siphoning public money to privately administered schools; to funneling more of the money still left in public schools to private high-tech companies.

This trend ... is a deliberate strategy by corporate executives and their political puppets, a strategy that uses the disaster of recession-era budget cuts as a means of justifying radical policies, knowing that the disaster will have shellshocked observers asking far fewer questions about data and actual results ....

Or as [education consultant Tom] Watkins explains, social pain is an opportunity: "Let's hope the fiscal crisis doesn't get better too soon. It'll slow down reform."

.... according to the Obama administration, standardized tests are the perfect tool to judge and punish struggling schools and the teachers who work with low-income kids, but they can't be used to similarly judge technology products that are making Obama's high-tech donors lots of cash.

In this oxymoron, we see who the corporate "reformers" in government really believe they work for, and whom they shape public policy on behalf of. It's not the average parent or student or voter. It's the Disaster Capitalists, who now have their sights set on your local schoolhouse

And now comes word that President Obama is working on a jobs plan in which even more money will be pumped into education within the larger context of education reform:

State and local governments, facing budget shortfalls, have turned to school systems to make up the difference. Only three states increased funding for education in FY 2012 -- the rest cut it by millions. California, in a particularly alarming example, laid off an estimated 19,000 teachers as of this spring ....

The refurbishing of schools could have an even larger economic multiplier effect. Currently there is an estimated $270 billion to $500 billion backlog in school maintenance and repair projects nationwide ....

Sources familiar with White House deliberations have said that advisers to the administration are weighing the merits of the Fix America's Schools Today (FAST) program, which would fund the maintenance and repair of public schools. The distinction between school construction and repair is an important one. The former would involve enhanced federal assistance and longer-term investment. Repair would have lower capital costs and less of a federal imprint.

What drives progressives like me crazy is that Obama usually talks a good progressive game plan (and he no doubt will when he offers the job plan), but the execution of his actual policy is conducted by those in his inner circle invested exclusively in the world of high finance. They are pulling the strings in the "reform" that is shaking public education to its foundations. The jobs bill will provide just enough inertia to highlight the connection between education and jobs, but it will also open the door to more education reform.

So, my sense is that FAST money will likely go to school repair/construction projects that advance the interests of business first. Outside of a few short-term jobs that temporarily stimulate the economy, buildings used for non-traditional uses will get more attention than most of the public school infrastructure. The scope will not be wide or long-term and implementation will prey on the general desperation people feel for jobs in this climate.

Hypothetically, if money comes to Metro Nashville, my guess is that it would be earmarked not to fix buildings in traditional public schools but that it would go to projects like those that renovate existing school buildings for charter and non-traditional schools. Leaking roofs will continue to leak. Long put-upon students still won't have lunchrooms or gyms. The prevailing trade winds here blow directly away public education. Take a recent groveling Tennessean story by Julie Hubbard hawking education reform:

Charter management groups took over troubled schools in New Orleans, Los Angeles and other American cities, with those districts seeking a fresh approach to long-term problems.

They’ve been dubbed the kings of turnaround, and now those groups are coming to Tennessee.

Metro Nashville hosts the concept on a small scale — LEAD Academy, a charter school, runs one grade of Cameron Middle School this year and will take over a grade a year. But many more charter groups are submitting bids, due Sept. 15, to run some of Tennessee’s worst-performing public schools ....

With about half of America’s 3 million teachers on the verge of retirement by the end of the decade, this could be the time to make dramatic changes to teacher recruitment and compensation ....

The new structure should shift from an industrial-era, blue-collar model of pay to one that rewards effectiveness and could include paying high-quality teachers with increased class sizes more money.

Tennessee is taking a shot at this sort of performance-based pay plan this year, giving 13 districts the ability to award bonuses to teachers who move their students well ahead of average gains.

Aside from writing like she is bucking for a future job in public relations, Ms. Hubbard seems to resort to code when replying to teachers and their right to collectively bargain: "industrial-era, blue-collar" makes teachers unions sound regressive, even antique. As if business-influenced politicians are naturally going to pay teachers fairly without any pressure to do so. In reality, teachers unions are the primary obstacles to Disaster Capitalists completely overrunning and dumbing down public education to suit their profit motives.

But reading the Tennessean in an exploding context of education reform in Nashville, of the millions poured into charter schools here and of the pandering speeches of Mayor Karl Dean and MNPS Jesse Register to business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, I see one sexy option the Obama Administration might want to consider just a few blocks down:

While the Civic Design Center suggested a magnet school, a charter school might maximize returns. So, after a slight tune-up, this concept would present a robo-growth combination: a ballpark designed above all to make wealthy local developers wealthier book-ended by a privately-run public school with no "blue-collar" unions to hassle MNPS and lots of new contracts to sign with education corporations and consultants. Government money would stream ineluctably into both projects.

The multiplex Sulphur Dell concept is pure gold; unless you're on the business end of education reform's one-two punch, watching your dignity siphoned off by misplaced logic that your education sucks and watching your district's resources siphoned off to propped up, unaccountable charter schools.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Same developer behind Vista Germantown sued by West End HOA for design "failure"

Apartment complex Vista Germantown continues to rise like a behemoth over the dwarfed Madison Street intersection of Germantown under the direction of a partnership that includes Bristol Development Group. BDG already brought a checkered reputation to the Germantown project, and allegations made by the condo residents of the Bristol West End homeowners' association, if true, do not endear us to the developers:

The homeowners association at The Bristol West End is taking the condo project's developer, architect, engineering firm and geotechnical service to court, alleging an "inexcusable failure" in the project's design.

The HOA claims a serious design flaw in a suit filed last week by the HOA against 17 defendants in Davidson County Chancery Court.

According to the suit, cracks began to appear in various common areas in the project in late 2009, four years after the building opened its doors to residents.

Bristol Development Group already had two strikes against it around these parts. First, Madison Square HOA grew frustrated with the company over the future Vista Germantown site, and they asserted that Bristol neglected to keep an abandoned warehouse boarded up or the grass cut to codes requirements until squatters set the building on fire. Second, a bank saved Bristol from the embarrassment of bankruptcy by taking over their faltering Velocity project in The Gulch with a "friendly foreclosure."

For Germantown's sake let's hope that allegations like those on West End do not crop up around the Vista Germantown project after completion.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Retrospective: a little North End labor history on Labor Day

Warioto Cotton Mills in 1915
(incorporated in 1905; now the Werthan complex)

The labor history of North Nashville is not easy to find but there are some accounts online like this one:

“I got my first job when I was thirteen years old, working from six in the morning ‘til six at night. . .six days a week, making fifty cents a day,” recalled Josie Coleman .... She was referring to the summer of 1914, when she left her family’s double-log home in Spring Hill, Tennessee, to work in Nashville. Her father Jessie, a farmer supporting ten children younger than Josephine, drove the girl and her shawl-wrapped belongings ... to the city in a mule-drawn wagon.

The previous few years had been unfortunate ones for ... Tennessee farmers. Texas fever, a disease caused ... by tick bites, had invaded the state and killed or quarantined most livestock. That calamity, compounded by the summer drought of 1914 and Maury County’s epidemic of hog cholera ... brought the farm to a standstill. Thus, when Josie’s uncle ... reported in glowing terms on the ready market for labor in industrialized Nashville, first-born Josie decided that Nashville was the place to be ....

Her first job was at Hartsford Hosiery Mill on Twelfth Avenue North at Harrison Street [near what what is now Marathon Village]. She and “lots of other young girls” and women worked for fifty cents a day, six days a week, feeding the machinery that turned out long-length ribbed stockings for boys and girls. She threaded loops of cotton and wool on the large needles of a pre-set pattern or form; the needles created “everything. . .the toe, ribbing, and ends" .... The stockings of white yarn were later dyed black ... by sulphuric dyes. This process was performed away from the processing factory, since the dye was extremely toxic. “And that dye really did smell,” Josie laughed ... “I don’t see how those folks stirring the dye vats stood that job!”

.... her father sold the Spring Hill farm and brought the family to Nashville, buying a residence in the 1700 block of Fourth Avenue North [now Salemtown]. Josie moved in with the family and obtained a job with the H. G. Hill Flour Mill on Van Buren Street [Germantown]. At ... sixteen, she acquired a “better paying job” with the Tennessee Manufacturing Company on Eighth Avenue North [now Werthan Lofts]. She began by sewing sacks of starched calico cotton used for packaging flour and meal. “Ladies really loved those sacks,” she laughed. “When they were empty, the sacks were washed and the stitches cut out so that curtains and clothes could be made from them. I’ve wondered if the ‘free’ fabric ladies got when they bought flour wasn’t more important than the product!”

Plagued by agricultural malaise and drought, a rural generation--many of whom were children--were forced to move to North Nashville for wages even lower than those that had already motivated workers in other industrialized cities to strike at great risk because they did not keep up with the cost of company rent a century ago. It is hard to say whether the farm girls moving into North Nashville were aware of strife like Massachusetts' Bread and Roses Strike of 1912, but they may have been so desperate that it might not have mattered.

While the labor movement was not strong 100 years ago (and likely discouraged by company bosses) here in Nashville, a social welfare organizing movement that built and sustained settlement houses for factory workers was robust. The Warioto Settlement House was founded to care for workers' young children (as we saw above Josie was herself a child laborer), to provide education opportunities, and to prevent diseases.

The building that contained another former settlement house designed to aid and socialize laborers, and otherwise provide "mediation" between rich and poor classes in rapidly changing North Nashville still stands at 10th Avenue North and Garfield Street (now in the Buena Vista neighborhood). The "Flower Mission" building was built more than a decade before the Warioto Cotton Mill incorporated and 2 years before the Pullman strikes in 27 other states that resulted in our annual national observance of this day, Labor Day.

Friday, September 02, 2011

One eyewitness's snapshot of the Nashville power structures during desegregation

The 54th anniversary of the desegregation of Nashville public schools is upon us. I have been reflecting on that tumultuous history and catching up on accounts of the time. I came across this interview with one of my favorite authors, Will Campbell, a white preacher and writer who acted as a kind of scout for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He has some interesting insights not just on how the entrenched wealthy class in Nashville used poor whites to do their dirty work, but also on the influence of the news media within the halls of municipal government:

[Benjamin] Houston: Where do you think that the power was in Nashville, based on your behind-the-scenes understanding? Where were the bases of power in Nashville in terms of running the city? ....
Campbell: A man who was the chairman of the board of trustees at Vanderbilt University was the publisher of the Nashville Banner.
Houston: [James G.] Stahlman.
Campbell: Jimmy Stahlman. He was by far the most powerful man in Nashville. He had allies, certainly, in high places, but that's partly because those allies were the ones who had stock in the Nashville Banner and he was beholden to them, the Nashville Life and Accident Insurance Company and so on. The governor at that time [Frank G. Clement], he was a good man who just wanted the controversy to all go away. He did not want protests to be happening, but he knew that he couldn't stop it.
Houston: You have commented elsewhere that politics in Nashville were fairly modern for their time in the 1950s, and yet the social and cultural mentality was much more conservative. Can you elaborate on that dynamic?
Campbell: What was it, ten or twelve, the Fugitives?
Houston: Twelve, the Agrarians.
Campbell: Yes, who were intellectuals, and they were widely respected. People would say, "he is a great poet, he is a great man, a great writer." And they couldn't go on to say, "but he is a bigot. He doesn't like black people, and he doesn't like poor people." That's another thing that troubles me . . .  Whites didn't realize that the very people who were recruiting them for the White Citizens' Council wouldn't wipe their feet on them, and used them only for their cause.
Have the power alignments and the tools of wealth in post-segregation Nashville changed much since 1957?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Watchdogging for any progress on nondiscrimination beyond the shallow symbolism of council votes

Almost exactly two years ago the local GLBT tabloid hailed the council vote for adding sexual orientation to Metro's nondiscrimination policy:

Sponsored by freshman Council member Megan Barry and co-sponsored by nine other members, BL2009-502 ensures that Metro employees who feel they have been discriminated against based on either or both of these issues now will have redress within the personnel system.

Not so fast. Discrimination watchdogs have been testing the rhetoric that catapulted Megan Barry into the social progressive pantheon against the reality of existing Metro policy. Passage of Barry's bill turned out to be the easy part. Implementation? Not so much.

Take Mike Peden's case: he has been looking past all of the hoopla and pronouncements of success since passage of BL2009-502 and he is alarmed by the slow walk of implementation. About 10 days ago he sent me an email with a link showing that the Nashville Area Metro Planning Organization's expressed hiring policy in an announcement of a planner opening did not include gender identity or sexual orientation.

Here is how the relevant section of the nondiscrimination statement was printed on August 23 on the MPO site:

Equal Employment Opportunity Employer
The Planning Department does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, sex, color, national origin, religion or disability in access to, or operation of, its programs, services, and activities, or in its hiring or employment practices.

That motivated Mike to start contacting Metro Planning staffers and council members to get answers on why both Planning and the MPO were dragging their feet after two years. And those answers did not come easily, quickly, or clearly.

Mike started with the compliance officer of Metro Planning. He asked her the straight-up question, "Which statement [the MPO site's or the Metro government's site's ] is correct for your organization?" The compliance officer, Josie Bass, replied that the MPO's site was correct. She told him that the organization met the minimum federal requirements under law but that could be changed at a future review. Not satisfied, Mike responded, "Is the person being hired for this position an employee of Metro Nashville? If so, then shouldn’t Metro’s statement apply? Are you an employee of Metro Nashville?" Ms. Bass sent back a single "Yes." Mike asked her to clarify what she was saying "yes" to and she wrote back, "Yes, they are a metro employee and yes, Metro non discriminate statement does apply." At that point Mike shared his confusion with me and I have to admit I did not understand how the Metro policy could apply when Ms. Bass had said before that the MPO statement met minimum federal requirements.

In the meantime, Mike contacted CM Jason Holleman and at-Large CM Megan Barry about the loophole. They did not exactly clarify the issue for him. CM Holleman wrote that while MPO used office facilities it was not exactly a "Metro entity". Holleman also said that not all of MPO employees' salaries are paid by Metro and thus they are not classified as Metro employees. Mike's correspondence with CM Barry included the following judgment from council attorney Jon Cooper:

If Metro is the one hiring these employees, then yes, the nondiscrimination policy in Sec. 11.12.130 should apply. However, the MPO is really a creature of federal law. It is comprised of representatives from the federal, state, and local governments, and represents seven counties and the cities within them. So, it is not just a Metro organization. Just because Metro employees work with the MPO does not mean MPO is bound by our nondiscrimination policy. It only prohibits the Metro Government from discriminating in employment practices.

Mike replied with the clear statement, "I would just like an answer -- yes or no -- either they have the policy or they do not." Both Barry and Cooper stated unequivocally that they do not. Mike still does not get it because all of the employees of MPO are listed as Metro employees.

In the wake of all of this I went back to check the webpage where the MPO opening is advertised with Planning's nondiscrimination statement, and lo and behold, someone had revised the statement and added "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" since Mike had first noticed the webpage on August 23:

Equal Employment Opportunity Employer
The Metro Planning Department, on  behalf of the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, creed or disability in admission to, access to, or operations of, its programs, services, or activities. Discrimination against any person in recruitment, examination, appointment, training, promotion, retention, discipline or any other employment practices because of non-merit factors shall be prohibited.

I don't know how much influence Mike's tenaciousness had over the re-writing of the statement, but he remains dissatisfied with the limited reach and loopholes of Metro's nondiscrimination policy.

I agree. It's not the vote, but the implementation that matters most.